Today you'll finally learn what are honestly the best car seats for 3 year old.
This list is especially adapted for traveling (though the first three options are for everyday use), so you won't end up with some massive gear, impossible to drag to the airport.
I was sick of people giving me advice and not knowing what was indeed the best for my child.
Enjoy, and be sure you're in the right place!
Table of Contents
- The Best Car Seats for Three-year-olds in General: Top 3 Choices
- Best Travel Car Seats for 3 Year Old: My Top 9 Favorites
- #1. Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness - Best Car Seat For 3-Year-Old
- #2. WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat and Travel Bag Bundle - Best Car Seat for Travel
- #3. Ride Safer Travel Vest Gen 5 - The Best Child Restraint Vest
- #4. Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat - The Most Compact Car Seat For a Three-Year-Old
- #5. Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Combination - The Most Affordable Car Seat for Toddlers
- #6. Evenflo Sonus 65 Convertible Car Seat - Honestly Comfortable Car Seat for A 3-Year-Old
- #7. Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 Convertible - Fit Three Across
- #8. Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster - Incredibly Lightweight
- #9. SureRide Convertible Car Seat - The Lightest Car Seat for a Three-Year-Old
- How to Choose a Good Seat for a Three-year-old? The Buying Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
If you're here, I guess you're confused about the best car seat for a 3-year-old. We've all been there!
I was so frustrated when I was supposed to buy the first child restraint system, boy; it drained my energy. Luckily, I've mastered the matter over the years, and now I am ready to pass on the knowledge.
Namely, you can find the official recommendations on the NHTSA page. There are many useful tips and tricks, but you'll need some time.
Also, the state laws regarding car seats differ. So you want to check the state laws for the country you are interested in HERE on our page.
If you don't have time for going through the extensive federal recommendations, keep reading, I will explain it concisely.
A newborn needs to be secured in a rear facing, federally-approved child restraint system and remain there until at least one.
However, the rear facing car seats are the safest child restraint system, and you should try to keep your kid there until he/she exceeds the upper weight and height limit.
Forward facing car seats are the next step in child restraint systems. They are allowed for kids at least once. Nonetheless, it would be best if you waited until they exceeded the rear facing system's limits, which happens around two or three.
So, officially, forward facing car seats are the federally approved child restraint systems for three-year-olds.
Booster seats should not be used until your child is at least four, but try to delay the transition from a forward facing seat to the booster seat for as long as possible.
Now, in my reviews, you will find booster seats. But, don't get confused because they are, in fact, forward facing car seats since they have a 5 point internal harness, and they are entirely safe for your child.
The Best Car Seats for Three-year-olds in General: Top 3 Choices
First of all, I will present to you my selection of the best car seats for three-year-olds in general. These models are excellent for everyday use, with an accent on safety and durability.
They are perfect for growing toddlers as they have an adjustable design, but they are not as travel-friendly as the models we will be reviewing in the second part of the article.
So if you don’t care about portability, firstly check these three models. And if you’re looking for a travel-friendly option, skip to the second part.
I love Graco!
Their baby equipment has never failed to wow me, and despite the popularity and excellent performance, their prices are still mid-range, affordable to families of different social statuses.
Now, the first thing you’ll notice about this model is that it has a three-in-one design. What does it mean?
Well, it has been designed to allow riding in a rear-facing mode with a harness, forward-facing mode with a harness as well, and the high-back booster mode.
The rear-facing mode supports kiddos from at least five pounds to the maximum of forty pounds.
And when they surpass forty pounds, you can ride them forward-facing up to sixty-five pounds when they are ready to transition into the high-back booster until they are 100 pounds.
If you take a close look into the seat, you will notice the thick side impact protection.
It’s a result of the Graco ProtectPlus engineering that has proven safe in rigorous testing, including rollover crash testing, side crash testing, and rear crash testing.
Besides the safety factor, another reason why I love this seat is the convenience of use.
The InRight LATCH system makes it super simple to install yet perfectly stable every time. At the same time, it is just as easy to adjust it because of the no-rethread harness that can be adjusted between ten different positions.
To adjust the harness and the headrest, all you need to do is push the button at the top of the seat and pull up or down.
Another adjustable segment of the seat is the back. There are four recline positions, so it’s also possible for you to find a perfect angle for your little one to enjoy the ride. And the thick cushions contribute to the overall comfort.
One negative comment I repeatedly saw was the placement of the large WARNING sticker. It’s at the center of the back and not breathable at all, so it becomes very hot and causes children discomfort. So that’s something Graco could improve.
I couldn’t go on with my list without mentioning at least one Chicco model. This trustworthy brand has only been improving over the years, upgrading its already cemented reputation in the industry with high-quality modes.
Now, this is a car seat for slightly bigger kids. It includes two modes, a forward-facing harness mode, and a high-back booster mode.
In the harness mode, you can accommodate children from twenty-two pounds through fifty-five pounds, while the booster mode extends the use to one hundred pounds.
However, the fact that it has no rear-facing mode doesn’t make it any less safe than other seats. In fact, this seat is equipped with not one but two layers of side impact protection and thick cushioning.
The headrest can be adjusted between nine different positions, and there are four recline positions to help you find a perfect fit.
As for the installation, Chicco included a LockSure belt-positioning system that secures this car seat safely and keeps it in place. And, of course, there’s a LATCH system for quick but reliable installation in cars with lower anchor points.
Another thing I think significantly contributes to the overall comfort and safety of your child is the padded harness straps. They allow you to tighten the straps enough without hurting your children or making them feel uncomfortable.
The entire seat is ergonomically designed and includes the ErgoBoost dual foam padding, so your child is in a nest of comfort and softness.
When it comes to portability, have in mind that this is not a seat you want to bring to a vacation. It’s very heavy, weighing 25 pounds, so it’s not very convenient for traveling or transport.
As for the negative reviews, I’ve seen a couple of parents complaining about excessive padding that prevents them from tightening the straps enough. Personally, I don’t think that thick padding is a problem, but it can be uncomfortable if it’s not soft enough.
Still, it’s one amazing seat for toddlers and older kids, and definitely very high-quality and durable, so I think it’s worth considering.
As for the Diono Radian line, I think that the fact this line keeps getting newer and newer versions each year speaks for itself. These seats are sturdy, durable, and packed with safety features.
The first feature worth mentioning is that this seat is an all-in-one model.
It‘s the only seat you’ll need for your child over the course of years, as it supports children from birth until they reach one hundred pounds.
What’s unique about it, though, is the extended rear-facing use that allows you to keep your child in a rear-facing position until they reach forty pounds.
This is an incredibly useful addition since it is an official recommendation to keep children in a rear-facing position for the longest period possible.
The three modes this seat offers are the rear-facing one, forward-facing with a harness, and the high-back booster mode.
Now, the first design feature that impressed me is that it includes memory foam. Most seats include sponge, but not this one. It’s super-soft and conforms to your child’s body, so they are super-comfy at all times.
The harness straps are also covered with memory foam pads, so your child won’t be hurt if you tighten the straps as you should.
Thanks to the super-LATCH system, the installation is a piece of cake. The system includes an audible click and a visual indicator, so you can know when the seat is safely installed.
Although soft and comfy on the outside, the seat includes an automotive-strength steel core that keeps the structure sturdy and strong.
What is more, the seat is lined with EPS foam, and it includes thick side impact protection, so it’s very safe.
When it comes to the extras, you can push the side parts of the seat outward for more room, the seat folds down, and you can remove the cover and wash it in a washing machine to keep everything clean and stylish.
I also like that there’s a number of colors you can choose from, and each seat looks equally stylish and modern.
Although a slim model, it does take up a lot of room when used in a rear-facing mode. So that could be a negative side of this model.
Best Travel Car Seats for 3 Year Old: My Top 9 Favorites
Here we have a list of the 9 best car seats for a three-year-old that have been specially designed for traveling, so they portray features such as slim, lightweight design, portable structure, and easy installation.
These are great for airplane use, carpooling, and traveling in general.
The reason why I have chosen this seat, especially as the top pick on my list is the love I have for Graco baby equipment.
Over the years, I have witnessed nothing but quality with their car seats, and I would honestly recommend them to anyone!
With more than sixty-five years of presence on the baby gear market, Graco offers nothing but convenience, quality, and safety.
Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness is a lighter model intended for toddlers and preschoolers. I find it particularly handy for traveling because of its lightweight design, affordable price, and high adjustability.
You'll see how vital these things are the first time you carry the car seat from one vehicle to another, check it at the airport and drag it with you everywhere you go.
You get a three-in-one Graco car seat for a hundred dollars, consisting of a harness booster, high back booster, and backless booster. What does this actually mean?
A high back belt-positioning booster is for older kids weighing between thirty and one hundred pounds, while the backless booster supports kids from forty to one hundred pounds.
Now, the 5-point harness uses a SimplySafe Adjust System that allows you to adapt the harness's height and the headrest in only one motion.
The headrest can be adjusted between five different positions, and the seat has an open-loop belt guide that helps you position the seatbelt correctly.
The adjustability of this seat comes in handy for two main reasons: it adapts as your child grows and you can install it correctly in different vehicles.
Given that this Graco model weighs only 14.97 lbs and is approved for aircraft use with the harness, it is excellent for traveling and flying. It was rigorously crash tested to meet and exceed the federal safety standards.
The WAYB Pico car seat will blow your mind for many reasons! Let's see why.
Wherever you go, this car seat will adjust to various travel conditions, and you can moderate it quickly according to your needs and preferences.
Namely, the travel car seat adjusts to all children between 22 and 50 pounds and between 30 and 45 inches tall.
Due to its slim design, the WAYB Pico car seat easily fits three across. Thus, it saves space, and your children will have enough room; they won't push each other.
Of course, the most significant benefit of the WAYB Pico seat features is a convenience for air travel.
There is a label showing that the seat contains the FAA approval, so you can place it on the plane seat, attach the necessary parts, and travel worldwide!
Naturally, the seat also follows, meets, and exceeds all FMVSS and regulations. No matter whether you travel by motor vehicle, ship, or plane, the travel-friendly car seat provides the ultimate travel experience!
The car seat weighs only 8 pounds, and you can always travel light wherever you go. Moreover, the design is ideal for an overhead bin since you can easily fold the WAYB Pico seat and store it away.
You can use the travel bag that comes with the package and put the folded seat there; hence, it's the best choice for the airports and their control process.
Another big plus is the material.
The car seat contains the aero grade-space aluminum frame and AeroWing system technology that are durable and reliable enough to withstand various conditions and last for an extended period.
If you're concerned about the kids' comfort - please don't be.
The content is full of breathable mesh material with polyester and wool; thus, the seat will keep your little ones cold, calm, and relaxed when using it; it won't create additional pressure and prevent sweat stains and cranky children.
Suppose you want the perfect seat for any travel, please, don't waste too much time and select the WAYP Pico immediately! You won’t regret it!
According to official recommendations, three-year-olds should be secured in a rear facing child restraint system (if possible) or an adequate forward facing child restraint system.
I most certainly agree with the official recommendations, and I advise everyone to follow them.
On the other hand, when you need a child restraint system for traveling, it is not wrong to consider more portable but still safe solutions, such as a Ride Safer vest.
Now, the problem with this vest is that many parents think it is not federally approved. Well, you know what?
It is! This child restraint system is completely legal and federally approved in the US. More about it, you can read on this link.
Now, Ride Safer vest comes in three different sizes: small, large, and extra-large.
Small size is approved for kids from three to six years old and 30-65 pounds in weight. The vest, itself, weighs barely 2.4 pounds, so I think it is the most convenient solution for traveling.
You know that toddlers aren't allowed to use a seat belt only because it does not protect them adequately in traffic.
With Ride Safer Vest Gen 5, the seat belt becomes optimized to protect your kid perfectly. It repositions the lap belt below the abdomen and shoulder belt away from the neck.
The vest can be installed either in a shoulder-lap belt mode or lap and tether belt mode. Either way, if properly installed, it is perfectly safe for use and provides adequate protection to your kid.
Most importantly, the Ride Safer Travel Vest is tested and certified to meet all the FMVSS 213 safety standards. However, this restraint vest is not FAA-approved yet, so you can only use it for your road trips.
If you decide to buy this child restraint system, I advise you to watch some of the instructional videos available to make sure you can install it correctly in your car.
Also, bear in mind that this vest is not recommended for kids under 3 years of age.
Another critical segment you should care for when buying a travel car seat is the size.
This Safety 1st is the best car seat with the compact design you can buy for your three-year-old when traveling. I love it because it is honestly durable yet small and pretty portable, so the transport won't be much of a hassle.
The seat has a 5 point harness, adjustable from the front, so you won't struggle with the installment and adjustments.
It features two modes: rear facing and forward facing, yet the rear facing mode is available longer, until your little one gains forty pounds, to be precise.
According to the official recommendations, this is excellent because kids are the safest in a rear facing car seat.
As I have previously mentioned, adjustability is critical.
This Safety 1st seat has an adjustable headrest, removable pillows, and five harness heights with three buckle positions. This means you'll adjust the seat in minutes to fit your child perfectly. Simply remove the pads for your 3-year-old to use it.
I know you care about safety, so rest assured because this seat has a side impact protection and meets the federal safety standards.
It can also be used on aircraft, and since it comes with a forward facing harness, you will be using it until your little one gains sixty-five pounds.
I mentioned the compact design previously.
Honestly, I expected it to weigh less since it is pretty small. But I guess it only testifies that it features a sturdy design with a solid construction, so it's not a big deal.
Finally, the price is more than affordable, so it definitely pays off to have one of these waiting for your big trip.
If there's one brand manufacturing the best car seats for traveling, it's Cosco.
Their seats are simple, lightweight, compact, and more than affordable. Importantly, you don't have to stress about safety because they meet all the federal safety standards.
So, my honest advice to all families on a budget is to avoid buying some sharp-looking, cheap-built stuff; instead, go with Cosco. It does not cost much, but it's reliable.
In particular, this Cosco seat is a convertible booster with a 5 point forward facing harness that transforms into a belt-positioning booster.
The forward facing mode supports children from thirty to sixty-five pounds in weight, while the booster mode is for kids from forty to one hundred pounds in weight.
It is pretty convenient because you will be able to use the seat once your child turns four and can ride in a booster seat safely.
You'll love this seat because it weighs only 11.5 lbs. You can carry it around with little to no effort. Plus, its slim design enables you to fit three across the back seat of one car.
As I already mentioned, this Cosco convertible booster seat features a pretty simple design. It incorporates premium fabrics that can be washed in a machine.
Additionally, it includes two cup holders you can also detach and clean or remove to create more space in your car.
Cosco's final convertible booster seat meets or exceeds the federal ASTM and JPMA standards and is FAA-approved. I would definitely buy one of these seats for travel purposes, yet, I don't think this seat is the best choice for everyday use.
It would be a good idea to buy one of these, simply to have them for traveling when you need a portable, lightweight seat.
All in all, this is one solid car seat for a 3-year-old. For less than sixty dollars, you get a year warranty, so it's a pretty good deal.
As you can notice, there will be more than one offer from Evenflo.
I can say they have the widest variety of products available for a whole range of prices, and I can always find something worthy of attention.
For example, this convertible is honestly lightweight but pretty functional and safe, so I would most certainly recommend it for traveling.
Namely, this car seat is the combination of a rear facing and forward facing child restraint systems.
The rear facing mode can be used until your little one gains forty pounds, while the forward facing mode can protect your child for up to 65 pounds.
The seat weighs 11.5 pounds, precisely the same as the Cosco booster seat I previously discussed.
I'd like to mention that this is one of the lightest car seats you can find on the market. Yet, despite its low weight, the Evenflo Sonus has a reinforced frame that guarantees high durability.
Like the other Evenflo modes I reviewed, this one has a central, front-adjusting harness with six different shoulder harness positions. This makes the seat pretty adjustable and easy to install. In just a couple of steps, you'll fit your little one perfectly.
Additionally, the built-in air ventilation system along with plush head and body cushions keep your kid comfortable and relaxed in summer while warm in winter.
You can remove the fabrics for washing and keep the seat clean under all circumstances. I love this because kids, at least my little rascals, always make a mess, and if the seat isn't machine-washable, you'll struggle a lot with the washcloth.
Evenflo Sonus offers more expensive car seating and prolonged use in every phase.
Therefore, I would recommend this seat even for everyday use since Evenflo is on the market for a long time and found ways to make their seats lighter without compromising the quality.
Here, I selected another car seat from Safety 1st, pretty similar to the other seat from this brand I included. However, it is never wrong to have more choices so you can find exactly what you're looking for.
When it comes to weight, it is moderate, not too heavy, not too light, but it features a super-compact design.
The seat is a combination of a rear facing and forward facing car seat with a weight limit of sixty-five pounds. To be precise, the rear facing mode can be used for kids from five to twenty-two pounds in weight.
On the other hand, forward facing mode supports kids from twenty-two to sixty-five pounds.
The seat incorporates a side impact protection, so your kid is perfectly safe in the case of an accident or crash. It weighs 14.5 pounds, a bit less than the other Safety 1st model I included.
When it comes to design, it's a typical Safety 1st design with removable pillows that provide comfort and extra support to your infant and can be removed as your child grows.
The harness can be adjusted from the front and has three buckle positions and five heights.
Once again, the fabrics are perfectly safe for your kid's skin and machine-washable, dryer safe too.
It also includes two removable cup holders that prove quite convenient for long trips when your child needs their water or drinks close. But since you can remove them, you can also create additional space in the back.
I recommend this car seat model for smaller cars and airplane use since it features a fit-three-across design that takes up less space than standard car seats, so you'll fit it almost anywhere.
I don't like that there is no booster mode since these convertible car seats are more for infants to toddlers than 3-year-olds in development.
Yet, the official recommendations advise keeping your 3-year-old in a forward facing harness seat, so it will serve you well for now.
Next, after a few convertible car seats, we get back to another harness booster convertible. I couldn't get past Evenflo again, so I decided to review their Maestro Sport Harness Booster.
I honestly hope that after reading this article, you'll realize how incredible this brand is.
I even think it is a bit under appreciated because of the famous car seat brands such as Graco and Britax. But, in fact, despite the lower price ranges, Evenflo products are just as good.
This model includes a forward facing harness booster and belt-positioning booster seat. The harness booster is intended for kids weighing between twenty-two and fifty pounds, while the high back booster is for kids 40-110 pounds in weight.
Like on other high-quality car seats, the harness on this booster is central, adjustable from the front, so you can quickly adapt the harness straps for a perfectly snug fit.
Plus, the handy shoulder belt guide helps you position the seat belt adequately in seconds.
Car seat pads can be removed and washed in a washing machine, while two cup holders can also be removed and cleaned.
What I like the most about this harness booster is the honestly lightweight design. Believe it or not, it weighs less than ten pounds. It means transport to the airport, taxi, or wherever will be a piece of cake.
Notably, the seat meets federal safety standards and is FAA-approved, so you can use it while flying with your 3-year old. The seat has been tested for side-impact and rollover crashes, so don't worry about unpredictable situations.
Bear in mind that this Evenflo car seat is one of the lightest car seats for 3-year-olds with an incredible weight limit, so you will be able to use it even when your kid turns four and more.
Since it costs less than $100, I would definitely consider it, as it exhibits excellent quality, proven safety, and lightweight design.
When I was looking for a travel car seat, the most important thing for me was the portability.
I was hoping to find a seat no more than 10 pounds in weight, but it seemed like an impossible mission. Then I found this SureRide Convertible Car Seat, only 9.80 pounds heavy.
This convertible car seat comes from Evenflo, the oldest car seat manufacturer on the market with more than 100 years of experience.
It is the combination of a rear facing car seat suitable for infants from five to forty pounds and a forward facing harness car seat for children from twenty-two to sixty-five pounds in weight.
I love how easy to adjust this seat is.
The harness is front-adjustable and highly accessible so you can secure your toddler snugly with zero effort.
Also, the harness can be adjusted among six different positions, which allow more accurate accommodation. I love this feature because in the past, and it was a hell adjusting it correctly as my child grew.
But, despite its really low price, this is one honestly high-quality seat. It has upgraded protection with three layers of energy-absorbing foam and side impact protection that lowers the chances for injuries inside crashes by 50%.
You'll love that super-soft, durable fabrics can be removed and washed in a machine, so you can always keep the sheets super-clean and fragrant. The cup holder can also be detached to create more space in compact cars or airplane seats.
Since I mentioned airplanes, this convertible car seat is also FAA-approved, so you can safely use it when flying.
However, do bring the instructions with you to prove that the seat is approved since one woman reported a problem at the airport with this model because it did not have the FAA-approved stamp.
The only thing I don't like about this seat is no booster mode. If your child is three years old, it can ride in a booster seat in a year or so, so you might need to buy one.
How to Choose a Good Seat for a Three-year-old? The Buying Guide
While choosing a travel car seat comes down to portability, lightweight design, and convenience of use, the process of selecting the best car seat for everyday use is slightly different.
Well, when you don’t need to worry about the weight of the seat, slim design, and foldability, you can focus your energy on finding the seat with advanced design and upgraded features that keep your child safe and comfortable.
1. The Age Span
My first focal point when I was buying the seat for my three-year-old was the age span it can be used for.
High-quality seats are expensive; there’s no doubt about it; therefore, it’s good for your child and your budget to choose a seat with different modes and a good weight capacity.
Since there are so many all-inclusive models nowadays, you can even buy one seat for the course of ten years if you choose smarty.
The ideal weight capacity should be from 5 to 100 pounds, with three different modes: rear, forward, and booster.
2. The Harness
From there, you should look at the harness.
The seat needs to have a five-point harness, preferably with pads to protect your child’s neck.
Yet, even more, significant detail about the harness is whether it is a rethread or a no-rethread one. No-rethread harnesses with at least five positions are a lifesaver.
Undoubtedly, you’ll need to adjust the harness as your child grows, and it's a billion times easier to do it by simply pulling the headrest up or down, so bear this in mind.
3. Side-impact Protection
Then, side-impact protection is not a matter of question. Your seat simply must have it.
Also, the more crash tests it passes, the safer it is for your child, so look at this section in the product description as well.
4. Reclining Back
Since I mentioned adjustability, reclining back is another novelty that makes the seat fit better.
It’s great if you can find the perfect position for your little one to sleep in, and it can extend the rear-facing use of the seat, so it’s definitely a worthy extra.
Materials are also a factor that plays a huge role in the selection of the best seat. Materials should be breathable, non-toxic, and soft on the skin, so your child can enjoy their rides.
This is of crucial importance in the summer when the seats tend to get really hot, and children sweat excessively.
Finally, maintenance, as an everlasting concern of every mother, is also an important factor. Check if the seat covers are removable and whether they can be washed in a machine.
I used to have seats that could only be cleaned with a wet cloth and mild soap, but this doesn’t work.
Stains cannot be removed that easily, and the seat starts smelling after some time, especially if you store it for a while.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of a seat should a 3-year-old be in?
According to the official NHTSA recommendations, a three-year-old should be in a forward-facing seat with the internal harness straps.
Namely, kids should stay in a rear facing position for as long as possible, so if your 3-year-old still does not exceed the weight and height limits of a rear-facing seat, keep them there.
Yet, the most common practice shows they transition to the forward-facing car seat around 2 or 3.
Can I put my child, three years in age, in a booster seat?
A 3-year-old should not be in a booster car seat unless it is a forward facing, harness booster. Booster seats are recommended for kids four years old and up.
The only case when you are federally allowed to place your 3-year-old in a booster seat is if he/she exceeds the weight and height recommendations for a forward-facing seat you have.
How do I keep my 3 year old in his car seat?
And that's it! I shared all the things I know about travel car seats for 3-year-olds.
I hope you figured out the essential features when you're looking for a car seat for traveling or when you want to fit more than one seat in one car.
As you could read in my extensive reviews, to my mind, the best car seat for a 3-year-old is the Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness.
With this toddler car seat, 3 year old is entirely safe. It comes from a reputable manufacturer, includes an internal harness, does not weigh too much, and can be adjusted.
What else is there to look for?
- 3-in-1 harness booster helps protect your child, from toddler to youth
- Grows with your child from forward-facing harness (22-65 pounds) to highback booster (40-100 pounds) to backless booster (40-100 pounds) to continue to meet industry standards, we have increased the...
- No-rethread simply safe adjust harness system allows the headrest and harness to adjust together in one motion.Do not use bleach
- Lightweight, portable seat is ideal for busy, active parents
- One-hand, 8-position adjustable headrest grows with your child